Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Slane. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
This story was corrected to reflect that the current Slane releases are made entirely from sourced whiskey, not a mix of house-distilled and sourced whiskey. It has also been amended to reflect that there have been more than two dozen concerts at Slane Castle, not two dozen.
It’s hard to know what to do with a castle these days. Without the threat of invading armies trying to take over your land, all those stone towers and turrets require a significant investment in maintenance and upkeep without offering a lot in the way of practical value.
The Earl of Mount Charles in Ireland (since re-titled the 8th Marquess Conyngham) came up with a plan to change all that back in 1981. Owner at the time of Slane Castle, 30 miles north of Dublin, the Earl decided that all those towers and turrets in fact made a pretty magnificent backdrop for a rock concert.
That first show, in August 1981, featured Hazel O’Connor, U2 and Thin Lizzy – and brought 18,000 fans to Slane Castle. The Earl figured he might be on to something; turns out he wasn’t wrong. The decades since have brought more than two dozen more concerts, with as many as 75,000 or 80,000 fans in attendance to see and hear some of the biggest names in music, from Queen, Bon Jovi, and Metallica to Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, and the Foo Fighters.
Another (more recent) business outlet for the family is Slane Irish Whiskey, which launched in 2017. It’s only natural, then, that the family whiskey business would at some point honor the family music business with a tribute. That brings us to the Special Edition the distillery recently released in honor of the 40th anniversary of that first 1981 show.
Slane Special Edition features whiskey made by what’s described as the triple-casked method, using extra virgin oak casks blended with seasoned barrels and Spanish sherry casks. Slane has been making its flagship triple-casked whiskey for five years at this point, though the ratios between the types of casks are different for the Special Edition.
Slane said the whiskey’s 90 proof release (45% alcohol by volume) is also a nod to the brand’s music legacy – an homage to 45 rpm record singles.
Tasting Notes: Slane Special Edition: The Legacy of ’81
Vital stats: A blend of malt and grain whiskies, aged at least three years in a combination of virgin American oak, re-used whiskey barrels, and Oloroso sherry casks; 45% alcohol by volume/90 proof; MSRP of $36.99 for a 750 ml bottle.
Appearance: Dark amber, tending toward orange. Thin, watery legs on the side of a Glencairn.
Nose: Sea-salt caramels, over-ripe pears, and vanilla extract. You can detect the Irish whiskey in there, but it smells sweeter and softer than you find in many releases.
Palate: The Special Edition is aged with a higher percentage of new American Oak and a lower percentage of the recycled barrels and Oloroso sherry casks than Slane’s flagship triple-casked release. In the mouth, it is very clearly an Irish whiskey – even if it wasn’t immediately evident in the nose. It brings to mind s’mores, cranberries, nutmeg, and a spicy, earthy flavor reminiscent of ginger root.
Slane Irish Whiskey opened its own stills on the castle grounds (the former stables) in 2017. The current releases are still made entirely from sourced whiskeys. The Special Edition is not particularly complex – certainly not as exciting as a concert with 80,000 of your closest friends – but it’s a perfectly fine Irish whiskey. It’s affordable and comes with an interesting backstory, and you could do worse than to pour yourself a tumbler of this on the rocks and dial up your favorite music on the Spotify or Pandora.
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Scott Bernard Nelson
Scott Bernard Nelson is a writer, actor and whiskey reviewer in Portland, Ore. When he's not working, you can often find him fly fishing or rock climbing in the Pacific Northwest.